The main issue on the agenda was the US-backed peace conference scheduled to take place in November. “Important decisions are before us,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said during his speech before the Knesset Members.
“Even in times of test, of arguments, conflicts must be dealt with in a relevant manner and with mutual respect. It isn’t about a struggle between good and evil,” the prime minister continued.
"We must give negotiations a chance. Israel has excellent excuses to justify stagnation in the talks. I don't mean to look for excuses. I'm determined to give a chance to a meaningful diplomatic process, jointly with Abu Mazen (PA President Mahmoud Abbas). Any other alternative would mean a devastating demographic struggle."
Olmert added that, "The road to an agreement is still long and paved with obstacles and difficulties. The terror from Gaza keeps raging. There will be no Israeli withdrawal before these threats are destroyed."
According to the prime minister, "it takes determination to make courageous decisions, which include giving up fully realizing the dreams that have nourished our national ethos for many years."
Olmert also addressed the issue of his government’s economic policies, and said education, welfare, and security would be the main areas to be focused on over the next few years.
The prime minister stressed the importance of fighting poverty in the country, and said the government had a targeted plan on how to do so. In addition, Olmert alluded to the government’s diligent work regarding education reforms.
The prime Minster also pointed out that the security establishment was much better prepared to deal with possible threats now than it has been in a long time. “We aren’t dealing with cosmetic enhancements. We are working on areas that have been neglected for years,” he said.
Netanyahu: Jerusalem's neighborhoods will be abandoned
In his retort to Olmert, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu warned that giving away parts of the West Bank to the Palestinians would enable Hamas to fire rockets at Tel Aviv.
"Handing over half of Jerusalem to the Palestinians would render the other half uninhabitable… the town's square will once again stand empty. This is not the way to make peace. How many times can the same diplomatic loss of sight be repeated?"
Netanyahu added, "according to the government's plan, Israel will withdraw to the '67 borders… this is an exact replica of the government's plan in Camp David in 2000.
"Conceding Judea and Samaria would transfer control over the areas overlooking the coastal planes to Hamas and the radical Islam. They would be able to fire rockets directly from there at Gush Dan, the Ben Gurion Airport and Tel Aviv."
The Likud chairman stressed that Israel's top priority should be preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. "We must make sure that the Iranian threat does not materialize. On this crucial issue there is no opposition and coalition."
'Iran global terror center'
President Shimon Peres also spoke during Monday’s meeting, and put much emphasis on the Iranian threat.
“If Iran achieves nuclear weapons, they could reach terrorists, since Iran is the center of global terror. Chaos will take over the world,” Peres said. “Iran’s current leadership is openly announcing its intention to promote a Shiite-Islamic revolution, not just in the Muslim world, but all around the world.”
Peres criticized those calling for negotiations with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, comparing them to those who called for talks with Adolf Hitler.
“Unfortunately, there are those who claim we should participate in a dialogue with such a tyrannical regime,” he said.
“Even Chamberlain thought that, when he flew off to negotiate with Hitler, and returned to London where he was received as a hero for peace, therefore unintentionally aiding Hitler in hiding his true intentions … building concentration camps and death camps.”
Attila Somfalvi contributed to this article